What room for compromise?
Concerns breakaway party means more power for labour
AS DISGRUNTLED ANC LEADERS – led by former Defence Minister and ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota – petitioned compatriots to join them in a bid to start a breakaway party, those who resisted raised concerns that an exodus of “sober-minded individuals” will give the ruling party’s labour unions and SA Communist Party (SACP) alliance partners even more pull to chart a radical new course for South Africa’s macro-economic policy.
The breakaway idea was mooted at a press conference addressed by Lekota last Wednesday, as yet another rescheduled date was being set for the tripartite alliance’s much anticipated economic summit, which will be the backbone of the ANC’s election manifesto and, therefore, Government’s economic policy after next year’s election.
Emboldened by their newfound political clout, the ANC’s leftwing partners have substantial plans to put on the table. References to the current global financial meltdown justify their calls for revolutionary structural change that essentially transfers control of economic decision-making from private to State hands. The documents prepared for the summit and (in Cosatu’s case) endorsed by a group of unnamed “progressive” economists, are clear: there’s no room for compromise.
“Internationally, it’s now widely accepted that the essentially neo-liberal economic policy prescriptions on which our Government modelled its economic strategy in 1996 have failed and have been thoroughly discredited,” says a Cosatu discussion document prepared for the summit.
Explaining Cosatu’s “Walking through doors project” – which canvassed opinion from a group of unnamed “progressive” economists about the direction of SA’s economy – Cosatu chief Zwelinzima Vavi warns: “A continuation of this (the current) approach will lead to our Government being punished both by capital and its own mass constituency. The important political shifts that have begun post-Polokwane have now created the space to start to engage far more boldly in economic strategies that intervene decisively to develop solutions to problems in the real economy.”
The Cosatu/SACP economic inventory of requirements is profoundly anti-globalisation. They include sentiments about nationalising (Sasol and steel producer ArcelorMittal), “disciplining capital” and plans for State mining houses, tariff barriers and protection for struggling industries.
Despite ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s assurance there will be “change and continuity”, he concedes the current trajectory (where poverty and unemployment are growing) isn’t in business’s interests. He says the policy debate is about tweaking what needs to be tweaked, overhauling what needs to be overhauled and having an informed (de-politicised) debate about where State and private boundaries need to begin and end.
It’s exactly the need for balance that has stopped many disgruntled ANC leaders from leaving the party. This group argues that an absence of alternative voices in the party will give hardliners too much space. Therefore, it comes as no surprise some analysts and business leaders say a breakaway party by moderate leaders (such as Lekota) in the ANC could leave the ruling party’s policy direction in the hands of its labour allies.
Raymond Parsons, overall business convener at Nedlac and economic consultant to Business Unity South Africa, warns the current global financial mayhem means that in charting its economic policy course, SA’s “margin for error and experimentation has shrunk”. There’s little choice but to toe a sensible line. Says Parsons: “SA is more vulnerable than ever. The few hours when markets thought Finance Minister Trevor Manuel had resigned provided a test tube case – a glimpse into what can happen if markets turn sour on you because wrong economic decisions are possible.”
Whether the concerns of Parsons mean the policy debate should be influenced by moderates inside the ruling party is moot. Sociologist Ashwin Desai cautions against broad brushstroke arguments that are either for or against the Mbeki regime’s policies and their success or failure rates. He argues that both arguments miss what the real problem is: a State incapable of implementing policy optimally.
Giving an inefficient public service more to do by way of State interventions is as much a sinker as Mbeki’s stabilising and sensible macro-economic policies that were, thanks to a lethargic bureaucracy, unable to translate the good times into accelerated delivery. That may be true at one level but doesn’t detract from the fact that a very decisive policy shift is on the cards.
The question is whether there are reasonable grounds for leaving the ANC to a leftwing rump by breaking away. Some ANC members lament the fact there’s no room for debate. “The winners intend to continue the trend of taking all,” says one ANC MP.
Lekota agrees, saying: “There’s been a daily weeding out of people who make the fatal mistake of expressing themselves.”